As the daughter of Indonesia’s founding father went cap in hand this week to the nation’s most powerful clerics seeking public declarations of forgiveness for an apparently impious poem, one thing was abundantly clear; the influence of hardline Islamists in the world’s most populous Muslim nation is growing.
Sukmawati Sukarnoputri is the second high-profile blasphemy target in 18 months, after a fringe protest against Jakarta’s former Christian, ethnic-Chinese governor Basuki Tjahaja “Ahok” Purnama turned into a grassroots tsunami of support for his eventual conviction for blasphemy.
Whether the Islamist groups behind the Ahok protest can build the same level of public indignation against the Muslim daughter of Sukarno, the country’s first president and an independence hero, is another question.
“If it happens it will show the capacity of these groups to target anyone they like and to influence people’s views,” says Tim Lindsey, director of Melbourne University’s Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society. “Because regardless of what happens, people will be intimidated. These organisations are using the power of the blasphemy laws to achieve the sort of political leverage they have never had in the past.”
At a Jakarta rally yesterday to demand Sukmawati stand trial, several thousand protesters — many in the white militia uniform of the extremist Islamic Defenders Front — chanted “arrest Sukmawati now”.
“She must go to jail,” declared Umrah, a middle-aged woman in a white burka who said she was the leader of the Islamic Defenders Women’s chapter.
“We will keep fighting to imprison her just like we did with Ahok.”
Imagine if Indonesia fell under the influence of Islamic holy warriors. Muslim countries have a long history of moving away from fundamental Islam, only to be pulled back to their seventh century Arab cultural roots — witness Turkey in the last decade.
hat-tip Stephen Neil